During the 90’s, I remember watching ESPN run NFL Films specials on Saturday afternoons. Those films would cover the greatest games, Super Bowl recaps and players/coaches. One sequence from those films that I always remember is coach and referee interaction on the field – yelling, friendly banter and more yelling. I can’t remember if it was a blooper film or a coaching film but the sequence is forever burned into my memory, and it is always just as funny played back in my head.
Heed Jerry’s warning
While reading story after story of the lockout and rule changes regarding player ‘safety’ I can’t help but think of one particular sequence of banter between coach and zebra: Jerry Glanville (then Houston Oilers coach) is seen and heard saying,
"This is the NFL which stands for Not For Long when you make those f@%&ing calls. I’ll be sellin’ groceries."
To get the full flavor, you can also view it within the first 10 seconds of this video on YouTube.
NFL – Not For Long. It seems appropriate that this could be the ‘Jacob Marlian’ warning to both owners and players: Your misguided greed will have fans hating you and your business practices, and your misguided principles for protecting players will have fans hating the game. I think the owners and players both can live with a large segment of fans hating the way the league and players do business and viewing that business with a cynical eye (I think they’ve already achieved that). But what happens if the fans get turned off from the game completely?
The proposed (and some already approved) rule changes may turn fans away from this game altogether. The 2010 season was full of questionable calls and non-calls regarding illegal hits – a point that had players and fans equally frustrated. The owners and league in their misguided principles to ‘protect’ players is quickly pulling out the fundamental idea behind football – contact. Contact and the idea of hitting too hard wasn’t an issue from football’s birth through the mid 90’s. But, with the advent of HGH and other enhancement substances (legal or illegal) and the fact that the average person keeps getting bigger and bigger, contact has become as huge an issue as B.J. Raji’s belly in the NFL. Bodies of tremendous size and strength collide with forces that cause frequent concussions, blown out knees and cracked ribs. And, the legue continues its gorgefest of consuming beefcakes. Teams won’t consider you as a lineman unless you are over 310lbs., won’t give you a second thought as a linebacker unless you can bench 250lbs. 30 times and won’t bat an eye your way unless you are a receiver/corner who can run a 4.0 40. The physical demand of players is tremendously high, yet the league – a league that still profits off of selling NFL videos focused on hard hits – is beginning to back peddle quickly on the contact aspect of this sport.
In the NFL of the future, when scores start to reach Pro Bowl numbers – the last 12 have been an averaged combined score of almost 70 points per game – fans will begin to become bored. That’s right – BORED. But Craig, aren’t high scoring games exciting? Why yes they are, only because for the most part they happen far and few between. Pro Bowl scores aren’t high because of all that talent on the field at one time. Those scores are high because the players are about as physical to each other as a couple at a middle school dance. The only difference between a Pro Bowl and the future NFL with these paranoid’esque rule changes is that the Pro Bowlers choose to lay off on the physical play. The NFL is generating a culture of fear for being penalized, fined and suspended for playing with a degree of physical intensity – something that is taught all they way through the pee-wee leagues. That fear will translate into hesitation and lax play that will cause this game to be blown wide open and boring because of it. Let’s also not forget that electrifying plays, such as kick-offs run back for TD’s, a QB squirming out of the grasp of a linebacker to make a big play and a game changing fumble on a pass attempt will soon cease to exist. Good thing Chicago Bears Devin Hester got his chances in. So long to Big Ben’s biggest weapon, not to mention the potential of something like what Marshawn Lynch did for the Seahawks against the Saints. And, Troy Polamalu’s game changing fumble to help set up the winning TD – never happens again.
The way of the MLB, NBA and NHL
Let’s allow our course to veer a bit and relate the lockout to the three other major professional sports. The MLB practically ruined itself during the 1994-1995 strike. Many fans were completely turned away from the sport. A ‘roided up McGuire single handedly (well I guess Sosa helped too) saved that sport by getting his long ball feng shui on and breaking one of baseball’s most sacred records. The sport has gained steam as of late, and although I haven’t researched into this, I would imagine the teams aren’t profiting much. The NBA’s strike in 1998-1999 helped the sport to become rather unpopular, with attendance not increasing until 2004 and profits still hard to come by. The NHL’s strike almost obliterated an already sinking sport (let’s be clear, I love the Penguins). That league also continues to struggle with revenues. Will the NFL be plagued like these other sports have been since their last strikes? I don’t know, but I think it’s foolish to take that chance.
I think the NFL is making an Al Davis like colossal mistake if they think that this lockout will effect how it’s fan base reacts. We live in a time where the recession weary public could very well say enough is enough with a greedy sports organization. Couple this with the rule changes and the NFL is in grave danger of walking down a path of angry fans and much lower revenue. Who wants to put down their hard earned money to watch a game that will become stale? How ironic would that be – fighting over a ‘projected’ revenue of billions that turns out to be far less than what they were whining over because the fans decide enough is enough and cease to shell out the bucks. But at least the players are safe when no games are played, right?
Tread lightly my friends. Or we may see a number of our beloved players playing for Jerry Glanville again – only this time for the UFL. Or maybe they’ll have to go sell groceries.